Democratic Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz seeminglyÂ planned to pay cyber-probe suspect and IT aide Imran Awan even while he was living in Pakistan, if the FBIÂ hadnâ€™t stopped him from leaving the U.S. Monday. Public statements and congressional payroll records suggest she also appears to have known that his wife, a fellow IT staffer, left the country for good months ago â€” while she was also a criminal suspect.
In all, six months of actionsÂ reveal a decisionÂ to continue paying a man who seemingly could not have been providing services to her, and who a mountain of evidence suggests was a liability. The man long had access to all of Wasserman Schultzâ€™sÂ computer files, work emails and personal emails, and he was recentlyÂ accused by a relativeÂ in court documents ofÂ wiretapping and extortion.
Records also raise questions about whether the Florida Democrat permitted Awan to continue to access computersÂ afterÂ House-wide authorities banned him from the networkÂ Feb. 2.Â Not only did sheÂ keep him on staff afterÂ the ban, but sheÂ also did not have anyÂ other IT person to perform necessary work that presumably would have arisen during a months-long period, according to payroll records.
Wasserman Schultz employed Pakistani-born AwanÂ and his wife Hina Alvi, and refused to fire either of them even after U.S. Capitol Police said in February 2017 that they were targets of the criminal investigation. She said police wouldnâ€™t show her evidence against the couple and, without it, she assumed they might be victims of anti-Muslim profiling.
AwanÂ booked a round-trip ticket to Pakistan in July and planned to depart Monday, July 24 with a return ticket in six months. He wasÂ arrested at Dulles AirportÂ during his attempt to leave.
TheÂ Associated PressÂ reported that Awanâ€™sÂ lawyer, Chris Gowen, said AwanÂ â€œhad informed the House of his plans to visit his family.â€
Wasserman Schultzâ€™s spokesman cited Awanâ€™sÂ Monday arrest as the reason for ending his employment onÂ Tuesday: â€œUpon learning of his arrest, he was terminated.â€
The officeâ€™s insistence thatÂ his termination was prompted by the Monday arrest â€” and not the House Sergeant at Arms banning him and his wife from touching congressional computers or his six months in Pakistan â€” suggests thatÂ had he boarded the flight without incident he wouldÂ still be on payroll.
â€œDoes that mean if he had boarded the flight as planned the office would have been paying him for six months while he was abroad?â€ TheDCNF investigative groupÂ asked Wasserman Schultzâ€™s spokesman Thursday. â€œWhy would it do that?â€ The spokesmanÂ did not respond.
Awanâ€™s wife, Hina, left the country under similar circumstances March 5, after withdrawing the coupleâ€™s three kids from school without telling Virginia education officials, packing up all of her possessions, and hiding $12,000 in cash, according to an FBI affidavit. She allegedly hadÂ hundreds of thousands of dollars waiting in Pakistan for her â€” money the FBI says AwanÂ had obtained partly through mortgage fraud and had wired overseas using a false explanation.
Two days later, on March 7, House records show Hina was cut from Wasserman Schultzâ€™s payroll.
Though Hina bought a round trip ticket with a return in six months, the FBI said it â€œdoes not believe that Alvi has any intention to return to the United States.â€
Wasserman Schultz spokesman David Darmrom did not respond to a DCNF IGÂ request to explain why Hina had been terminated two days into a trip she claimed was temporary,Â while her husband had not been terminated for a six-month move.Â Between the part-timeÂ nature of her work and the ban,Â her absence was unlikely toÂ have been noticed in two days without someone telling the office her plans.
Wasserman Schultzâ€™s office also didnâ€™tÂ answer if the office knew Hinaâ€™s â€œround tripâ€ was a permanent move.
Hina and AwanÂ were both IT aides whose jobs required access to the network, but the House Sergeant-At-Arms banned them from accessingÂ it beginning Feb. 2. AwanÂ and Hina were her only IT staffers, and payroll recordsÂ through the latest available period, March 31, indicate that no other IT staffer or vendor was added to the payroll after their ban.
A House source said AwanÂ was seen in the House office building multiple timesÂ after the network ban. â€œImran Awan is working in an â€œadvisoryâ€ role for Wasserman Schultz, her spokesman said, â€œproviding advice on technology issues.â€
The spokesman wouldnâ€™t say who did the officeâ€™s computer work after the ban, if not Awan.
As IT administrators, the suspects could read all emails sent and received by the lawmaker and see all files on the staff membersâ€™ computers, numerous House IT aides said. WikiLeaks shows that AwanÂ also had the password to Wasserman Schultzâ€™s iPad.
In public court documents filed in Fairfax, Va., Awanâ€™sÂ stepmother accused him of wiretapping and extortion.Â â€œImran Awan did admit to me that my phone is tapped and there are devices installed in my houseâ€ and â€œImran Awan threatened that he is very powerful and if I ever call the police again, [he] will â€¦ kidnap my family members back in Pakistan,â€ his stepmother, Samina Gilani, claimed in the documentsÂ (p. 21) filed April 14.Â Â
Despite her professedÂ concern of stereotyping, all other colleagues who employed Awan, Hina or their other relatives on House payrolls fired them, including Rep. Andre Carson of Indiana, who is Muslim and has criticized Wasserman Schultz for blocking police from examining a laptop tied to Imran.
That laptop was found in an unused crevice of a House office building and seized as evidence by the Capitol Police, but Wasserman Schultz appeared determined to not let police see its contents, threatening â€œconsequencesâ€ for the police chief if he didnâ€™t release it. The exchange was capturedÂ on video.
Fox News reported that months later, she had blocked them from looking at it but had becomeÂ open to â€œnegotiatingâ€Â with police, possiblyÂ turning over certain files, as Hillary Clinton was permitted to do in deciding which emails were â€œpersonal.â€
ObserversÂ have decried Wasserman Schultzâ€™s judgment and cybersecurity record, noting she was the chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee when it was hacked. A group of Democratic donors filed a lawsuit saying she and the DNCÂ â€œbreached the duties they owed toâ€¦ members of the DNC Donor Class byÂ failing to exercise reasonable careÂ and implement adequate [cyber]security protocols..â€
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